Great Stuff Found on the Web — A Word that Kills

This posting is an excellent article gleaned from Pr. Mark Surburg on the power of God’s Word to kill and make alive.  Pr. Surburg recently started his own blog and has already published some excellent stuff there.

bible-parableWith the release of the pastoral letters and President Harrison’s most recent video (on, this is obviously not the time to pursue an involved discussion of the issues that have once again come to light as a result of the Sandy Hook interfaith service. However, I have received several very good questions from those who have read my post, “The Grief Ritual of American Civic Religion”.  Having already responded to them in the online discussion in comment sections of blogs, I wish to briefly present those thoughts here.

Several readers have been correct when they have pointed out that in my piece I have described the use of God’s word from the perspective of the context in which it is employed, namely, the grief ritual of American civic religion. They have asked how this relates to the efficacy of God’s word.  Does the position I have set forth deny that God’s word can accomplish what he desires? After all, Isa 55:10-11 says that God’s word does not return to him empty, but accomplishes that which he purposes.  Even if the word of God is set side by side with a reading of the Koran in the setting of the grief ritual of American civic religion, isn’t it still possible for God to use that word to offer comfort and create faith?

This is the most common argument for interfaith services. It is an argument based on the efficacy of God’s word as a comforting and faith creating instrument. There are some very interesting observations to be made about the manner in which this misconstrues efficacy and the character of the word. It is a Gospel reductionist position, which assumes that efficacy of the word in the setting of crisis is only about Gospel and comfort.

However, God’s word is not only a word of Gospel. It is, of course, also a word of Law. It kills and it makes alive. And as a word that kills, it can’t be domesticated. Flowing from the Old Testament (2 Kg 18:20-40; Isa 44:9-20) into the New (Rom 1:18-25; 1 Cor 10:14-22) is a common theme in which Scripture allows no room for paganism. The polemic against paganism is constant because Scripture will allow no false god/s to be compared to the true God.

Scripture never presents God’s word as one that speaks along with other pagan voices. Instead, whenever the word comes into contact with paganism it kills it – it declares that it is false. In every setting where the proclamation of God’s word comes into contact with paganism, it attacks paganism such as in Acts 14:15; 15:29-31.

For this reason, it is not possible to construe God’s word and its efficacy only as Gospel when read in the setting of other pagan texts (or at any time for that matter). It is the very nature of God’s Word to attack all false gods. It runs counter to the very nature of God’s Word to presume that one can set it side by side with the Koran, etc in the trust that God will still “do his Gospel thing” while also allowing the pagan texts to speak with the claim of divine revelation. Where the proclamation of God’s Word comes into contact with this kind of paganism, it declares that the paganism is false and calls people to repentance.

This is a theme that I would like to develop at more length in the future when time has passed and we are further removed from the emotion of the last several weeks.  I believe that any analysis of interfaith events must take into account both the context created by the ritual of American civic religion and also the character of God’s word as a word that kills paganism. God’s words is not patient of attempts to set it next to paganism as one voice among many. Instead, God’s word kills paganism so that it may give life through faith in the one true God – the triune God who has revealed himself in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


Great Stuff Found on the Web — A Word that Kills — 4 Comments

  1. Thanks Norm for bringing these words from Pastor Surburg and the link to his blog. Mark is a brilliant scholar and faithful pastor.

  2. Wonderful post! It gets at the main point, which is indeed Gospel reductionism. We as pastors must, MUST be able to properly distinguish when we are to apply Law and when we are to apply Gospel, the very stated goal of C.F.W. Walther’s great lectures on “Law and Gospel”.

  3. Where God so purposes it (Isaiah 55:11), the Gospel also kills and leads to repentance (turning from sin), does it not?

    Undoubtedly many of us have heard true stories about how persistent bitterness and hostility in someone’s heart was broken down by a human act of kindness. How much more power and potential, then, is there in revealing and demonstrating God’s true kindness?

    “…God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance …”. (Romans 2:4)

    For some, an appetite for what is false and destructive is killed by the Gospel once they “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8) and conclude that nothing else could be more satisfying.


    A Real-Life Parable

    As I entered the front door of a friend’s house, one of her recently-acquired dogs came to the door growling and barking, and it wouldn’t stop. As I stood there, my friend apologized, saying that her dog was hostile toward men in general, perhaps because of abuse by a previous male owner.

    Feeling agitated by the situation, I nevertheless knelt down calmly in the hopes of appearing less threatening to the four-legged creature. I persisted in speaking softly in the face of the snarls and sharp teeth, and after several moments of this awkward exchange the canine quieted down and became approachable.

    To my surprise, the dog meekly stayed close by me during the rest of my hours-long visit. And his owner was amazed. This once-hostile creature had become quite gentle and affectionate.

    Question: What killed the hostility?

  4. @Carl H #3
    The Gospel in the narrow sense, as you are referencing it, never does what you say it does.

    “Therefore everything that condemns sin is and belongs to the proclamation of the Law”

    “-we believe, teach and confess that the Gospel is not a proclamation of repentance or retribution, but is, strictly speaking, nothing else than a proclamation of comfort and a joyous message which does not rebuke or terrify but comforts consciences against the terror of the Law, directs them solely to Christ’s merit, and lifts them up again through the delightful proclamation of the grace and favor of God, won through Christ’s merit.”

    “Thus God’s wrath, in all its enormity is revealed from heaven upon all sinners; through this revelation they are directed to the Law, and only then do they learn properly to recognize their sin through the Law.”

    -Formula of Concord, Article V

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